Paul George was choosing his words carefully, picking through them deliberately to avoid offending the paying customers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I love being on the road and playing on the road,” he was saying after scoring the last 21 points of a Pacers’ victory over Detroit on Saturday. “It’s going to be fun to be in hostile environments.”
George should have a blast, then over the next three weeks. The Pacers play nine of their next 11 games on the road, from Miami to Sacramento and points between, completing the most difficult scheduling stretch of their season. After that, beginning with a home game against the Clippers on Jan. 26, they’ll play 22 games at home and 16 on the road.
One might think the players are dreading the trip that begins in Miami on Monday. They’ll play four games over the next eight days, away from family, friends and their own beds. They haven’t been a particularly strong road team, either, going 7-9 away from home and 12-5 at the Fieldhouse.
George, though, can hardly wait, and has stats to back his excitement. Despite shooting well in his last two home games, in which he’s scored 31 points against Milwaukee and 32 against Detroit, he’s been a better player on the road than at home this season. He’s averaging 25.4 points on the road, hitting 43 percent of his three-pointers, but “just” 23.7 points at home, hitting 38 percent from the three-point line.
It’s nothing new, either. Two years ago, in his last complete season, he averaged 3.3 more points on the road, with better shooting percentages from the field.
“It’s just fun,” said George, who scored a career-high 48 points at Utah last month. “I don’t want to say anything wrong about being at home playing, because I love playing in front of our fans, but there’s just something fun about being on the road with a group of guys, finding a way to take the crowd out of it. That’s my niche, kind of: how can I neutralize this crowd?”
Hometown fans shouldn’t be offended. Playing better on the road than at home is a rare feat in the NBA, where most players are far better in familiar environs. It’s an indication of confidence and mental toughness, a love for shutting-up opposing fans, and an accomplishment seemingly reserved for the franchise’s best clutch players.
Reggie Miller — who by far had most of his great playoff moments on the road — averaged more points on the road than at home in seven of his 18 regular seasons, and was even in two of them. He and Mark Jackson both had better stats on the road in their first two seasons under coach Larry Bird (1997-98 and the ’99 lockout season).
Roger Brown scored more and shot better on the road in all of his ABA seasons with the Pacers, although the stats aren’t available for the first one.
George McGinnis was better on the road in most of his ABA seasons with the Pacers, including the 1974-75 season when he was voted co-Most Valuable Player. He averaged 4.1 more points on the road in his rookie season, 1971-72.
George, then, will be in good company if he maintains his trend. And the Pacers won’t mind at all as they head out for a trip to Miami, Orlando, New Orleans and Houston that brings four games in warmer weather and no back-to-back sets. The trick is to enjoy the experience and the time together without being distracted.
by Mark Montieth